With three of the four quarterfinal matches decided on penalty kicks, the World Cup has taken a turn toward sudden-death soccer.
For many U.S. viewers of the weekend's matches, the penalty-kick shootouts might recall the days of the North American Soccer League, but it is important to note that international soccer did not follow the NASL's lead and that overtime methods are different.
If the score is tied at the end of regulation in World Cup soccer, the teams play two 15-minute extra periods. It is not sudden death. If the score is tied at the end of overtime, each team rotates five penalty kicks. The European Cup switched to the penalty-kick shootout in 1976.
The NASL played sudden-death overtime and began its shootout version in 1977. The NASL did not use penalty kicks; rather, the ball was placed 35 yards away from the goal, and the player had five seconds to try to score. The goalkeeper could come out of the goal mouth if he chose.
On a penalty kick, the ball is placed 11 meters from the goal. The goalkeeper supposedly cannot move until the ball is struck, but many of them cheat a bit and get a slight jump.
"I don't like resolving the match by penalties," said Argentine goalkeeper Nery Pumpido. "They don't prove anything, really. For a goalkeeper, it's the hardest moment because the goalkeeper will be a hero or a goat ."
Penalty kicks, although unpopular with most soccer traditionalists, has become the wave of the sport in recent years. England is a holdout of sorts -- regular-season English League matches can end in ties, and in the case of a draw during the English Cup, the match is replayed several days later.
A rematch was the World Cup standard at first. At the 1982 Cup in Spain came the first penalty-kick decision -- West Germany's memorable 4-3 victory over France in the semifinals. But if the '82 final between Italy and West Germany had ended in an overtime tie, the match would have been replayed several days later.
This year, though, the World Cup will have no rematches, just the quick and painful ordeal of elimination through penalty shots.
"It is neither fair nor right to decide a game on penalties," said Spanish Coach Miguel Munoz, whose team was eliminated in such a manner Sunday by Belgium.
"The Lord laid his eyes upon us," West German Coach Franz Beckenbauer said after his team beat Mexico on penalties. "Penalty shooting is always an uncertain affair because there is a lot of luck involved."
Perhaps the staunchest critic of penalty kicks is Italian Coach Enzo Bearzot.
"I do not want this match to go to penalty kicks," he said before his team's 2-0 loss to France in the second round. "I do not want any match to go to penalty kicks. It makes no sense to play 120 minutes of soccer and then to decide a winner in such a manner."
Perhaps the cruelest fate befell World Cup favorite Brazil, which only allowed one goal in five matches and was eliminated by France on penalty kicks, 4-3. "We didn't lose," said Nabi Abi Chedid, a member of Brazil's soccer federation. "We were disqualified by a very rigid and unjust regulation."
Like Brazil, Spain lost on the fifth and final round of penalty kicks. Belgium converted all five of its kicks, a fact made more remarkable by Coach Guy Thys' selection of shooters -- Leo Van Der Elst, Patrick Vervoort, Hugo Broos, Enzo Scifo and Nico Claesen.
"The penalties were incredible because we had to rely on our younger players to do it," said Thys. "Some of the veterans said they were too afraid."
The only more brutal way to lose than Brazil and Spain did is if the score is still tied through five rounds of penalty shots. At that point, the first team to miss is eliminated. Which probably is still a more civil way to decide things than the way it was once done in European Cup competition -- if a match and a rematch both were drawn, they would flip a coin to decide who advanced.